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THE MAIDEN (2022). Best friends Colton (Marcel T. Jiménez) and Kyle (Jackson Sluiter) float the river and spray-paint in the local ravine. Like the boys, Whitney (Hayley Ness) explores the ravine, seeking solace by writing and drawing in her diary. But when her friend abandons her, Whitney disappears.

Marcel T. Jiménez and Jackson Sluiter in The Maiden.Courtesy of TIFF

  • The Maiden
  • Written and directed by Graham Foy
  • Starring Jackson Sluiter, Marcel T. Jimenez and Hayley Ness
  • Classification N/A; 117 minutes
  • Opens May 10 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, May 12 in Winnipeg and Saskatoon, May 18 in Montreal, and May 19 in Vancouver and Calgary

Critic’s Pick

The Maiden, Canadian director Graham Foy’s startling and beautiful feature debut, initially plays out like an episode of Jackass trapped in the dreamy haze of a Terrence Malick film.

In a wooded area hidden in the corners of a Calgary suburb, two high-school friends named Colton (Marcel T. Jimenez) and Kyle (Jackson Sluiter) take turns to see who will make the bigger goof of the other. The pair are killing time, engaging in a cycle of gentle adolescent destruction that feels one part Johnny Knoxville, one part something even more dangerous, in that existential-angst kind of way.

In an effort to leave some kind of mark on their surroundings, Colton and Kyle leave a graffiti tag (“MAIDEN”) on a nearby bridge, its concrete slab acting as both an intrusion into nature and a reminder of the busier, more complicated world outside this quiet paradise. And for a few narrative beats, it seems that Foy’s film will keep this tone and story in place for its duration – two lost boys figuring out what’s next.

But then the action darts to a shocking, barely seen incident that breaks the friends’ world apart, with Foy segueing into an entirely new story, focusing on a shy classmate (Hayley Ness) of the boys whose journey cosmically loops back to Colton and Kyle. And it is here where Foy reveals himself to be not only an incredibly sensitive and perceptive filmmaker, but a daring one, too.

An intensely atmospheric meditation on friendship, grief and the pains and wonders of being an adolescent outsider, The Maiden is a haunting work that announces the arrival of a startling new talent. While this realization might have been evident for those in the tiny Canadian film community who have been following the director’s music-video career – under the alias Fantavious Fritz, the Alberta-raised and Toronto-based artist has worked with Canadian musicians Charlotte Day Wilson, BadBadNotGood and Tops – it is just as wonderful to discover for newbies, too.

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Confident and inventive, ambitious and controlled, Foy’s film balances all its elements with such a sense of purpose that it’s all a little intimidating, up to and including the wonderful performances from first-time actors Jimenez, Sluiter and Ness. (There is also a fun little cameo from a cat who may be the best feline onscreen this year, Puss in Boots aside.)

I can only hope, then, that The Maiden’s many microbudget wonders make as much of an impression on curious, adventurous audiences as the mark that Colton and Kyle leave on that aforementioned bridge. Tag your friends, and let’s make Graham Foy a household name.

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